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Book Awards

    Books Readers' Advisory

    Tis the Season: Differences Between Faux Printz and Actual Printz Discussions

    Like most librarians I love to speculate about book awards. I happily participate in the discussion at Someday My Printz Will Come, and I’m a big fan of Cross Referencing’s What Should’ve Won series. Both manage to talk intelligently about contenders and the merits of winners while still being respectful of the work the Printz committees both current and past put in to choosing a winner.

    Today I’d like to discuss a few of the major differences between serving on the actual committee, as I did for the 2012 award, and participating in informal Printz discussion. I would imagine this goes for other awards too, but as I haven’t served on any of those committees I can’t guarantee it. Of course, since one of the differences that doesn’t need lots of explanation is confidentiality I won’t be getting into specifics.

    1. Multiple Readings

    This is one of the biggest differences, and yet it was absolutely essential near the end of the Actual Printz process. When the process gets down to the end committee members will often re-read a book or parts of a book several times. With really excellent books often details of plot, structure, and characterization become clearer and more impressive with multiple readings. On the other hand, some books just don’t stand up to this intense scrutiny. Sometimes titles with a lot of buzz from people with excellent taste don’t end up recognized by the committee and  I suspect that often it’s because the committee are the only readers who gave them a second reading.

    2.Breadth of Reading

    Faux Printz discussions are almost always based of someone’s list; a blogger, the books that got a lot of stars, Twitter consensus, whatever. Influential Reader #1 finds a book they think is good, they mention it and suddenly it’s on the to read list of Influential Readers #2-#8. A couple of them read it and like it and now it is a must read. It inevitably goes on a list and now it’s a contender. At some point during the year it will be declared a “weak year”, because the big books aren’t “putting out” so to speak. It happens nearly every year.

    The Actual Printz, on the other hand, is looking a lot broader. Books that are even remotely possible contenders are divided up for a first read or partial read depending on how close to Printzy-ness they come. Committee members are sent hundreds of books and somebody on the committee takes a look at most of them. Committee members are also watching other sources to find gems that might not arrive on their doorstep. I promise that the committee has read books you’ve barely even heard of and unless one of those titles is chosen they might not ever hit your radar.

    3. 100% Finish Rate

    One of the obstacles even in a good informal Printz discussion is that it’s rare that everyone participating has actually read all the books under discussion. Not surprisingly this generally leads to people arguing passionately and voting for the books they have read, which skews the results quite a bit to the books with wider distribution, known authors, and overall bigger buzz.

    Of course the Actual Printz is decided by people who have read all of the nominated books. In Faux Printz discussions we often give up on reading books that don’t work for us personally. In Actual Printz discussion not only must you finish the book, but it’s essential to determine whether the problem finishing is with the book or with the reader. Additionally, having nine opinions about a dark horse book instead of two or three makes for a very different type of discussion.

    4. Criteria, Criteria, Criteria

    The Actual Printz award has criteria, starting with the charge “To select from the previous year’s publications the best young adult book (“best” being defined solely in terms of literary merit).”  Now, SMPWC  does a truly excellent job at trying to focus discussion on criteria, but I’ve seen enough discussion and enough certainty about mediocre books by very popular authors to know that not all discussions hit those marks.

    The Printz is not for being inspiring or being socially important. The winner might be one or both of those things but that is by coincidence, not design.  “POPULARITY is not the criterion for this award. Nor is MESSAGE.”  Amen to that.  The Printz is in the committee’s opinion the best book by literary standards, period.  The Actual Printz committee comes back to the criteria over and over during the course of the year.




    E.L. Konigsburg, Award Books, Collective Reading and Me, Elizabeth

    Some days you must learn a great deal. But you should also have days when you allow what is already in you to swell up and touch everything. If you never let that happen, then you just accumulate facts, and they begin to rattle around inside of you. – E.L. Konigsburg


    I was saddened this weekend to to hear about the death of author E.L. Konigsburg. If we are lucky children we come across books so magical they become a part of our childhood along with the family vacations and other precious memories that make us who we are. It’s one of the reasons I believe so much in the importance of libraries, librarians, and sharing books with people.

    The Mixed-Up Files of of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler was one of those books for me. In fact, even though I have read hundreds if not thousands of books since then it still remains my all-time favorite book. Claudia and I have a lot in common, even as a child I admired her excellent planning and interest in learning new things.

    To a midwestern girl whose city experience was mostly limited to driving through the ruins of downtown Detroit the Kincaid sibling’s adventures in New York City and The Metropolitan Museum of Art were simply amazing. I have to admit I was a little disappointed in how much the museum had changed (admittedly over the course of several decades) when I finally was able to visit in my late twenties.

    I had the pleasure of reading The View From Saturday as a library school student. I believe we were assigned to read a Newbery book and I was delighted to see a “new” title from an author I had loved as a child.  I believe it was Konigsburg’s books that first taught me as a young reader that if I liked a book I should look for other things by the same author.

    Sharing the the news, and discussing the book on social media proved to be a lesson in the true magic of award winners: they give us a collective reading experience. Friends and colleagues whose childhoods spanned several decades shared their memories of reading Konigsburg’s work. You will find few people my age and younger who don’t remember Bridge to Terabithia, The Witch of Blackbird Pond, Dear Mr. Henshaw, The Westing Game, or Island of the Blue Dolphins.

    Awards truly make special books part of our culture. Volunteering at a school in my new rural hometown I happened to find myself in the room of the middle school language arts teacher. I was struck by how many of the same titles were read by these students and students very different from them back in Cleveland. The Giver, Maniac Magee, Roll of Thunder Hear My Cry, and Holes are just a few examples of how the collective reading experiences continue around award books.

    If anything, Caldecott winners are even more universal. Staff members whose own childhoods spanned several decades and ethnicities spoke fondly of memories of The Snowy Day, Where the Wild Things Are, and Make Way for Ducklings. While the Printz has had only a fraction of the time to make an impact you’ll still find few students graduating from Cleveland high schools who haven’t crossed paths with Monster at some point during their education.

    Someday, hopefully, I will have a child come home from school and tell me their teacher is reading them The One and Only Ivan and I will smile and ask them how much they’ve read so far. They will be able to discuss the book with cousins in other states, their teenage babysitter, and someday their own children. We will see if they like it as much as they liked their mother’s copy of The Mixed Up Files.

    That is the magic of truly distinguished books for young people.